Jeff Howard

Browns Activate Joel Bitonio

The Browns have activated left guard Joel Bitonio off of the COVID-19 list, per a club announcement. To make room, the Browns waived safety Tedric Thompson. The Browns will also have head coach Kevin Stefanski back on the sidelines against Kansas City, now that he’s been cleared.

Bitonio tested positive for the coronavirus just prior to the Browns’ first-round playoff game against the Steelers. It was a huge loss, but the Browns still managed to throttle the Steelers in the first quarter and hold on for the victory. Now, they’ll have the three-time Pro Bowler back in action as they face the Chiefs in the divisional round.

Bitonio has been a rock for the Browns throughout his seven-year career, despite constant instability in Cleveland. Up until the diagnosis, Bitonio hadn’t missed a snap since 2016. Still, the Browns aren’t 100% healthy on the offensive line. Tackle Jack Conklin was forced out of the Steelers game with a hamstring and his status might not be determined until we get closer to kickoff.

In addition to activating Bitonio, the Browns moved wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge off their reserve/COVID list. They will also have all their coaches back after coronavirus issues forced them to miss last week’s game. Secondary coach Jeff Howard, tight ends coach Drew Petzing and assistant offensive line coach Scott Peters will all coach Sunday, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com notes (Twitter links).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Denzel Ward To Miss Wild-Card Game

The Browns’ uphill battle in their first playoff game in 18 years became steeper Saturday. The team announced it will be without top cornerback Denzel Ward in Pittsburgh.

Ward will remain on the Browns’ reserve/COVID-19 list. So will fellow starting cornerback Kevin Johnson, who also tested positive last week. Both missing last week limited a Browns secondary in a game when Mason Rudolph threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns.

Based on his timeline, coronavirus protocols would have allowed Ward to suit up against the Steelers. But this would have required Ward being asymptomatic and passing the necessary tests. The third-year corner has not hit the necessary checkpoints, which will leave the Browns shorthanded Sunday night. The NFL found some COVID-19 spread within the Browns but did not move to postpone the AFC North playoff matchup.

However, the Browns will have some players back for their Steelers tilt. The team activated safety Ronnie Harrison, linebacker Malcolm Smith and tight end Harrison Bryant from its virus list. Harrison tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, but the NFL deemed it a false positive, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports. Browns corner Terrance Mitchell was held out of practice Friday after testing positive, per Cabot, but that has also since been deemed a false positive.

The returns of Harrison, Smith and Bryant leave Ward, Johnson, Joel Bitonio and KhaDarel Hodge on Cleveland’s COVID list. Several coaches, however, will miss the game. Kevin Stefanski, offensive line coach Bill Callahan, assistant O-line coach Scott Peters, tight ends coach Drew Petzing and DBs coach Jeff Howard are out Sunday night. After coaching the Browns’ wide receivers last week, first-year Cleveland assistant Callie Brownson will coach tight ends this week, Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com tweets.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coaching Notes: Titans, Lions, Browns, Panthers

The Titans have fired linebackers coach Tyrone McKenzie, according to veteran reporter Paul Kuharsky (via Twitter). The 2009 third-rounder will be moving on to a role on the Lions staff (via Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com).

Following an underwhelming playing career, McKenzie joined the Rams as an assistant special teams coach during the 2017 season. He joined the Tennessee coaching staff prior to the 2018 campaign, and he’s been in the role for the past two seasons.

The 45-year-old has plenty of familiarity with Lions head coach Matt Patricia, as Patricia served as the Patriots linebackers coach during McKenzie’s stint as a player in New England. He’ll presumably take on a role with the linebackers in Detroit.

Let’s check out some more coaching notes from around the NFL…

  • The Browns are hiring Jeff Howard as their passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach, reports NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (via Twitter). Howard, who spent the previous seven seasons with the Vikings organization, has worked with head coach Kevin Stefanski. He’ll be joining a defensive coaching staff that’s expected to be helmed by 49ers defensive backs coach Joe Woods, who’s expected to be named defensive coordinator.
  • After spending the past three seasons as the defensive coordinator at Baylor, Phil Snow recently joined the Panthers in the same position. The veteran coach spoke with media members yesterday, and he discussed the role that new Panthers head coach (and former Baylor head coach) Matt Rhule played in his hiring. “Well, I’ve known Coach Rhule since 2001, and our roles have completely changed,” Snow said (via the team’s website). “He was my graduate assistant when I was a defensive coordinator at UCLA, and now I’m working for him. We’ve got great respect for each other, he’s really a good football man, really a good head football coach. Players like him, he gets to know them, but we’ve just had a great relationship. When he took the Carolina job, he asked me if I’d come as a coordinator and I said yes, so here we are.”
  • We learned yesterday that veteran Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia had decided to retire.